Due to budget reductions ordered by the “coin operated governor,” Gray Davis, catchable trout plants at Moccasin Creek Hatchery and the Department of Fish and Game’s other hatcheries are slated for significant reductions in the near future. Anglers and some hatchery officials are up in arms about the proposed cuts.
“Moccasin Creek Fish Hatchery believes this is not in the anglers’ best interest,” said Tom Grove, hatchery manager. “We have received no hard numbers yet, but we’ve heard that cuts will be around 10 percent. We’re still waiting for firm direction from the DFG leadership.”
Grove was concerned that the majority of fishing license dollars are now going to cover DFG overhead and other expenses, rather than supporting the hatcheries.
“Did you know that less than 20 percent of angler’s license fee goes to the actual operation of the state’s trout hatcheries?,” said Grove. “This means that over 80 percent of the anglers license dollar is supporting Department overhead, various fisheries programs and a number of non-trout programs.”
Fish and Game Code Section 711c requires that the “cost of sport fishing and hunting programs be provided out of fishing and hunting license revenues.” This code also states “these revenues shall not be used to support non game fish and wildlife programs,” according to Grove.
Moccasin Creek’s total budget each year is $175,000, of which $130,000 is allocated to trout food, according to Grove. The hatchery has an annual allotment of 340,800 pounds of catchable trout. With air plants and surplus fingerlings included, over 1,000,000 fish are planted by the facility each season. Grove fears that budget cuts will significantly reduce trout plants throughout the Central Sierra and the rest of the state.
The hatchery program is a corner stone of the state’s fishing program. A total of $14.6 million is budgeted for 2002-2003, including 9.2 million for trout hatcheries and $5.4 million for anadromous fish hatcheries. Anglers purchase approximately 2.4 million fishing licenses annually, generating over $44.7 million for fisheries programs.
The Department raises and plants over 57 million fish annually, including 41 million salmon and steelhead and 15 million resident fish, mostly trout. The state’s 21 fish facilities produce and plant a total of 5.5 million pounds of fish, including about 8 million “catchable” trout.
The DFG operates a total of 12 trout hatcheries, as well as eight salmon and steelhead hatcheries and two fish planting bases. The already short-staffed hatcheries are threatened with additional expenditure cuts of $1,571,000 proposed for the next budget year.
“Since August we have gone through six budget drills, both for the department and the state,” said Sonke Mastrup, DFG Deputy Director. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the cuts are quite a bit higher than 10 percent. We have a hatchery oversight committee that is trying to minimize the impacts to the hatcheries by developing different models.”
He added, “Our hope is to plant smarter, not harder. We are hoping to take the hits so that the average angler won’t notice the cuts.”
In this day and age, hatcheries are a controversial issue. Many fishery conservation groups, such as California Trout and Trout Unlimited, have advocated for more “wild trout” fisheries, where zero limit and special size and bag limits encourage catch and release.
The California Fish and Game Commission established the California Wild Trout Program in 1971 to “protect and enhance quality fisheries sustained by wild strains of trout.” The program was expanded with the passage of legislation in 1979 that required the Department to annually recommend 25 miles of streams and one lake for catch-and-release trout angling opportunities. There are over 400 miles of streams and 19 lakes that are designated catch and release waters now.
This program is a commendable one, since it encourages the preservation of wild trout populations, but this program alone can’t supply the demand of California’s anglers. Because of heavy fishing pressure, the state should expand the program, not reduce it, to compensate for a budget deficit caused by Gray Davis’ gross mismanagement. Every year anglers are asked to pay more in license fees, with a sum loss of fishing opportunities.
On the ocean front, our rockfish season has been cut to six months or less and bag limits have been slashed. Now trout fishermen, who make up approximately 60 percent of the state’s anglers, are being asked to endure cuts in the state’s hatchery program.
Hatchery and holdover trout provide lots of badly needed opportunities for family recreation in the urban areas, foothill lakes and the Sierra Nevada lakes and streams. Not everybody chooses – or has the opportunity – to fly fish and catch and release on a remote Sierra stream or lake.
“It’s appalling for the governor to ask anglers to pay for increased fishing licenses every year while the hatchery program is proposed for big cuts,” said Bob Strickland, president of United Anglers.” The hatchery program supports family fishing opportunities. To further discourage California’s future fishermen is not good at all. Any cut in the hatchery program at a time when our overall fishing opportunities are being reduced should not be tolerated.”
If you’re as upset about the proposed cuts in the state hatchery program as I am, I recommend that you take two quick and easy actions to protest any cuts in the state hatchery program. Your license dollar needs to be accounted for!